NEW YORK – The Friends of the IDF hosted its annual gala fund-raiser in the main ballroom of Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria hotel on Tuesday night, bringing together prominent New Yorkers, Israeli dignitaries and uniformed soldiers in an event that raised over $27 million for IDF programs and services.

The dinner and reception attracted over 1,400 people, who entered the gilded hotel in black tie attire surrounded by photos of encumbered soldiers serving on the front lines of combat.

In front of an audience that included famed artists, the president of the New York Yankees sport club, former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi and family members of fallen soldiers, Fox News contributor Monica Crowley moderated the night which opened with the singing of the American and Israeli national anthems.

“We’re here for the human side,” Elie Tahari, Israeli-Iranian fashion designer, told The Jerusalem Post.

For Tahari, who grew up in the Israeli social services system, his childhood in Jerusalem has always reinforced his support for Israel’s security. “We’re here because they provide a place for orphans like me,” he said.

The FIDF is an American charity organization that provides educational, social, cultural and recreational programs for Israel’s servicemen.

While the charity does not support specific IDF operations or fund the purchasing of weapons or strategic equipment, the organization does focus on the life needs of the young men and women who serve, providing for them everything from workshops to scholarships, food vouchers to furniture, flights, support groups, and the occasional, much-needed soldier rest and recreation.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor told the Post that the gala is “the number one event” for Israel in New York, saying that Israel is, in many ways, synonymous with its defense forces, as virtually everyone serves in its ranks.

A major theme of the night’s presentation was the IDF’s work tracking down Fajr-5 missiles from Iran over the course of the past year. The guests were shown a map of the route Iran uses to smuggle these lethal missiles into Gaza – around the Arabian peninsula, into the horn of Africa and through Egypt – marked by a red dotted line.

The audience broke out in applause as they were shown a black and white video of the assassination of Ahmed Jabari last November.

A live caucus followed, with some guests publicly pledging gifts ranging from $1,800 to $1,500,000.

“I’m pretty amazed at the amount of support here,” said Lt. Yitzhak Goldberg, who serves in the 188 Armored Brigade. He will be speaking to a day school in New York before he leaves, and has visited the city’s Jewish Heritage Center. “You feel a warmth here that you don’t get at home all the time, where everyone’s in the army.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, highlighted FIDF’s Lone Soldiers program, which provides support for enlistees from foreign nations who have no close relatives in Israel, as an example of the organization’s extraordinary work.

“It’s an emotional and personal experience to be a a part of this, and it’s a recognition of Israel’s ongoing security challenges,” Hoenlein told the Post.

The event’s most powerful moment came as Nelly Barak, mother of the fallen Lt. Hanan Barak, described her son’s wide smile, his love of country and her homemade cheesecake before he died serving beside tank gunner Gilad Schalit, the day he was taken prisoner in June 2006.

“He looked after us,” she said, recalling the flood of support she was given from neighbors, the prime minister and hundreds in between. “He made a difference.”

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